Album - Cody Johnson - Leather
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‘Dirt Cheap’ by Cody Johnson - Lyrics & Meaning

November 3, 2023 10:51 am GMT
Last Edited December 18, 2023 9:30 pm GMT

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Cody Johnson - ‘Dirt Cheap’

Label: CoJo Music / Warner Music Nashville

Release Date: November 3rd 2023

Album: Leather

Producer: Trent Willmon

Songwriter: Josh Phillips

The Background:

Cody Johnson's traditional-leaning 2023 album, Leather, is filled with a number of classic country story songs, and ‘Dirt Cheap’ is arguably the keystone of them all.

With the help of a beautifully intricate set of lyrics courtesy of Josh Phillips, CoJo delivers a heartwarming tale of a farmer who rejects a lucrative subdivision offer.

When the developers are bemused at the farmer's response, they ask him how he's kept going all these years despite floods and droughts, to which he responds with a colourful, bucolic depiction of the memories he's made on that land with his family.

Many have celebrated ‘Dirt Cheap’ as one of the most visceral and vibrant examples of storytelling in Cody Johnson's discography so far, with the stripped-back ballad following in a similarly bittersweet, nostalgic vein to 2021's ‘I Always Wanted To’.

The Sound:

Similarly to other drawn-in offerings on Leather, such as ‘Make Me A Mop’ and ‘The Painter’, Cody Johnson and Trent Willmon keep the arrangement for ‘Dirt Cheap’ relatively low-key.

This keeps the focus on the poignant, stirring lyrics, with the predominant instrumentation coming from a deliberate, understated piano. The emphatic chorus is met with a slight crescendo and a welcome dose of steel guitar, but throughout ‘Dirt Cheap’, the spotlight is trained unwaveringly on CoJo's moving vocals as he tells the powerful story.

The Meaning:

“They came in thinking top dollar

To that ole cotton crop farmer

They knocked on his screen door

And he said ‘Lord what you need boys’

And they said, ‘You know all the others went and cashed out

We got the subdivision all mapped out

It’ll sit right here on this land

And you could leave town a rich man’”

Cody Johnson opens by setting the scene of a couple of suited and booted developers striding up to an old farmer's door, and offering him a sizeable sum in order to divide up his land.

They explain that all his fellow agriculturists have agreed to do this and have reaped great financial benefits, before emphasising that this man could leave his farm behind with a small fortune.

“He said, ‘Boys whatever you’re offering

It won’t be enough

Cause I got”

However, our protagonist stops them short and immediately beings to emphasise to them that no amount of money will be enough to take him away from his beloved farm.

“A little girl that used to swing right there, I still see her pink bow in her brown hair

She’s in the big city but she still calls home

What’s she gonna do if she comes back and we’re gone

And over there under that white oak tree

Beneath the cross is where my best buddy’s buried

Lasted 13 hunting seasons running strong

Keep your money cause a man can’t leave his dog

And over there’s where I got down on one knee

And you can’t buy that kinda dirt cheap’”

Cody Johnson directs the developers’ attention towards the old swing, as he recalls how his daughter used to love playing there, before pointing them to the place where his best friend is buried.

The song's protagonist explains that, even though his daughter has moved out and his buddy is no longer with him, this farm preserves so many wonderful memories that still bring him joy.

He concludes the chorus by reminiscing about how he proposed to his now-wife on this farm, before underlining that, because of all these reminders, this land is priceless to him.

The song pivots around a clever spin on the phrase ‘dirt cheap’, as CoJo flips this to make his point about how all the mud and turf on his land are far from inexpensive to him.

“One man smiled and he kinda looked away

The other said before we go, ‘I gotta know one thing

Between the droughts and the floods, through all the years

What in the world got you through, How the hell’d you get here’”

Despite being surprised at the rejection, the developers react fairly amiably, with one of the men asking the farmer how he managed to keep the farm running through all the hardships. The farmer repeats the chorus, highlighting the strength these memories give him.

“Naw it ain’t something you fall into, it’s something God gives you... and you hold onto”

Cody Johnson brings in an element of spirituality here, as he perceives his farm as something Heaven-sent. As a result, he doesn't see how he can justify letting such a precious gift go.

“Just like that little girl that used to swing right there, still see her pink bow in her brown hair

She’s in the big city now but she still calls home

She’s coming back next week and man it’s been too long

And over there under that white oak tree

Beside the cross where my best buddy’s buried

Lays a puppy posted up in the shade

That woman never could turn away a stray

I guess that’s why she said yes when I got down on one knee

Lord long as all this is here, why in the world would I ever leave

Nah, you can’t buy that kinda dirt cheap”

In the final instalment of the chorus, Cody Johnson endearingly references how his wife brought in a puppy from the streets one day, before self-deprecatingly quipping, “That woman never could turn away a stray / I guess that’s why she said yes when I got down on one knee”.

What has Cody Johnson said about ‘Dirt Cheap’?

Speaking to Apple Music ahead of the album's release, Cody Johnson singled out ‘Dirt Cheap’ as one of his favourites from the project, “I love that song. I relate to that song so much. Literally on the ranch at home, I have the tree picked out where I want to be buried. I'm not impressed by money and fame and glitter”.

He went on to stress, “So whenever I'm old and somebody comes along and says, ‘Hey, we want to pay you to build a subdivision here,’ I don't really care what the check amount is. You're not putting a subdivision on my land. I want to keep it pure. And hopefully we're just going to keep adding more to it. That's what we've discussed, is that we're going to grow this thing as big as we can possibly get it. And who knows: God's got a plan, I don't. But for right now at 36, I had related to ‘Dirt Cheap’ because I would like to stay there. My wife's like, ‘The house is two stories. What about when we get old?’ I was like, ‘We're putting in an elevator.’”

For the full lyrics to Cody Johnson's ‘Dirt Cheap’, see below:

“They came in thinking top dollar

To that ole cotton crop farmer

They knocked on his screen door

And he said ‘Lord what you need boys’

And they said, ‘You know all the others went and cashed out

We got the subdivision all mapped out

It’ll sit right here on this land

And you could leave town a rich man’”

“He said, ‘Boys whatever you’re offering

It won’t be enough

Cause I got”

“A little girl that used to swing right there, I still see her pink bow in her brown hair

She’s in the big city but she still calls home

What’s she gonna do if she comes back and we’re gone

And over there under that white oak tree

Beneath the cross is where my best buddy’s buried

Lasted 13 hunting seasons running strong

Keep your money cause a man can’t leave his dog

And over there’s where I got down on one knee

And you can’t buy that kinda dirt cheap’”

“One man smiled and he kinda looked away

The other said before we go, ‘I gotta know one thing

Between the droughts and the floods, through all the years

What in the world got you through, How the hell’d you get here’”

“And he said, ‘That little girl that used to swing right there, I still see her pink bow in her brown hair

Running up after one of them long days

Her big smile making every little worry fade

And over there under that white oak tree

Beneath the cross where my best buddy’s buried

All them hunting seasons freezing in a Jon boat

Me and him, double barrel and a 2 stroke

And that woman that said yes when I got down on my knee

You can’t buy that kinda dirt cheap’”

“Naw it ain’t something you fall into, it’s something God gives you... and you hold onto”

“Just like that little girl that used to swing right there, still see her pink bow in her brown hair

She’s in the big city now but she still calls home

She’s coming back next week and man it’s been too long

And over there under that white oak tree

Beside the cross where my best buddy’s buried

Lays a puppy posted up in the shade

That woman never could turn away a stray

I guess that’s why she said yes when I got down on one knee

Lord long as all this is here, why in the world would I ever leave

Nah, you can’t buy that kinda dirt cheap”

For more on Cody Johnson, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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